Nearly 3.9 million US Adult population uses probiotics to improve their gut health. These probiotics are generally considered as a natural microbial stabilizer which promotes healthy digestion by re-creating a balance between bacterial strains. However, the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) has changed its guidelines on using probiotics for treating all gastrointestinal problems, saying that they might not be that effective.
AGA has released an updated guideline on probiotics usage on the basis of the limited literature available on them. This is the very first time that it is analyzing the role and benefits of probiotics either individual or multi-strain formula. The new guideline is published online in AGA’s official journal named Gastroenterology and available to read.
These new guidelines recommend using probiotics for C. difficile infections, preventing necrotizing enterocolitis and pouchitis disease. But there is not much evidence that supports the role of probiotics for treating Crohn’s disease, IBS, and ulcerative colitis but there are many patients who use probiotics in these conditions. In this case, AGA warns against using them.
Grace L. Su is the panel chairperson who has issued these new guidelines. She says people should immediately stop using probiotics if they are having Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Not only these probiotic supplements are expensive but also there is no as such evidence which marks them effective and safe during these conditions.
This warning is particularly for those patients who are self-medicating for all gastrointestinal problems, calling this use of probiotics as a ‘natural way’ of treating these diseases. She also encouraged patients to consult a specialist before taking any type of supplements.
The use of probiotics is very common which is not a very good thing to hear. Although the association of probiotic with better gut health is widely popular. Given its popularity, it is necessary to educate the public on the correct usage of these supplements. Releasing these guidelines is also an attempt to save people from developing complications in later years.
AGA used GRADE methodology for analyzing and evaluating the scientific evidence available on the effectiveness and safety of using probiotics. While these guidelines explain the cases where using probiotics can actually help, it also highlights the general assumptions on the basis of misinformation and weak evidence.
Some of these guidelines include the following.
- If a patient wants to use probiotics during the pre-term for reducing the risk of low birth rate in the newborns, there are specific probiotics that could help. Using these probiotics could reduce the risk of infant death and necrotizing enterocolitis. But not all probiotics can serve this purpose.
- There are some probiotics that could improve the treatment of C. difficile infections along with prescription antibiotics. Likewise, it is also a part of the management plan that is prescribed for pouchitis that is a severe form of ulcerative colitis after surgery.
- Probiotics might not be as helpful as medicines for children suffering from acute gastroenteritis. This means these probiotics should not be a part of routine treatment for children who make it to the emergency rooms for severe diarrhea.
- There is not much evidence to support the benefits of using probiotics to treat C. difficile infection, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or even irritable bowel syndrome. If a patient has any of these conditions, using probiotics would not help. There are possibilities of probiotic causing more harm than benefit in these cases if the patients continue to use them for the long term.
- To understand the efficacy of probiotics for certain medical conditions, AGA recommends designing clinical trials. It is necessary to have clinical results before prescribing them in almost every gut disease.
AGA also suggests all gastroenterologists to only suggest using probiotics if the patient really needs them. The effects of certain probiotics are highly specific in action. That’s why it is necessary to understand the role of probiotics while treating and managing common gastrointestinal problems.